When President Obama passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, it included the provision that companies with more than 50 employees must provide "a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk." But what happens when companies don't follow this law? Glassbreakers CEO Eileen Carey wrote an open letter to WeWork, the coworking company that was named among Fast Company's most innovative businesses, reprimanding them for not providing a space for women to pump: "We were shocked to discover that though there are kegs to pump WeWork beer at every kitchen, there isn’t a designated lactation room on any of the seven floors for members to pump breast milk."
This is a problem for so many new mothers who need to pump but don't have the space or support to do so. WeWork responded, saying that it would look into fixing this problem, but as one mother — who wrote into Refinery29 with her own breast-pumping story — pointed out, often "the onus is on the mother to speak up for herself. And that, particularly after having been away for maternity leave, can be isolating or politically damaging." She continued:
It all depends on the office, on the leadership, on the robustness of the HR department, and on the culture of the workplace. Balance this on top of other battles of returning to the workplace as a mom: perhaps overworking to demonstrate your value to the organization, trying hard to avoid being put on a "mommy track," figuring out how to feel comfortable/justified leaving at a certain time to pick up your child or relieve a sitter, and really, just shifting gears back into spending most of your hours doing something totally different than caring for your child. It's too much.
In order to normalize breast-pumping at work, we need to be more open with our stories. Ahead, 10 women share theirs.
It sounds like there is an oil rig in the background
Given the rest of the room was 95% male, I'm pretty sure I was the only one there who was concerned about milk supply.
I found people eating their Chinese food in the lactation rooms.
What made this process worse is that no one monitored the keys, so anyone could bypass the Outlook system and take the key from the hook. Many times, I had to knock on the door and politely but sternly ask if the person had reserved the room (knowing full well they hadn't). I found people having phone conversations in the wellness rooms, sleeping on the fold-out chair, and even enjoying their Chinese food for lunch. Sometimes, all keys were missing and I had to enlist Facilities to help track down the key or make a new one.
One time, I was picking up the key and the HR manager called me into her office. I was worried it might be something serious related to work, but she pulled me aside to inform me there was concern that one of the Wellness rooms was infested with bed bugs, and they would be sending an exterminator to inspect my apartment to make sure my home wasn't infested as well.
I finally got so sick of the missing keys, I contacted an HR manager to discuss the problem. The manager instituted an HR person to monitor the keys, so they wouldn't go missing. Unfortunately, this fix came a little late. I was already having supply issues, but coupled with my access issues at work, this led me to stop breastfeeding before I really wanted to. — Jen, corporate communications
One of the agents stopped me, pointed to my pump bag, and said 'Is that your lunch?'
I sat on the tile floor between the sink and the door and pumped without a modicum of dignity.
THAT IS NOT AN ACCIDENT; THAT IS A PERVY DUDE LOOKING FOR BOOBS.
Most of the time, I could find an hour to make it back to my room to pump in the middle of the day, but on the last day, I was really busy and ended up pumping in the nursing mother's area. I was thrilled that they even offered such a place, but then I got there, and it was essentially a small, curtained-off square with a folding chair and boxes. Which is better than the bathroom, I guess. I was using my hand pump, basically topless, when a dude pulled back the closed curtain and began rifling through the boxes around me — seeing that I was pumping, but paying absolutely no mind. I was mortified. Between the intense pain from the thrush, four days away from my baby, the exhaustion of working a long show, and this last indignity, I lost my shit. I screamed at him to get out, packed up everything (I had only pumped like half an ounce), and yelled at the people staffing the area. They, all men, were apologetic but had the gall to tell me the guy "didn't see anything."
If you have advertise that you have a safe space for mothers, it can't also act as the place you store water bottles for some dumbass to be able to wander into at any time. I would have been better off in the bathroom. The women in the nursing area next to mine overheard me and came out, gave me a hug, and told me she totally understood — he had actually walked in on her while she was nursing her baby. THAT IS NOT AN ACCIDENT; THAT IS A PERVY DUDE LOOKING FOR BOOBS. After reporting the incident (and, to be honest, the higher-up show staff took it very seriously), I was told there will be doors on the nursing area next year. We'll see. — Marissa, publicist
My coworker gifted me an old shelf that I now put on top of the toilet seat, so that I have a little bit of comfort.
Because of this layout, my only option was to pump in the women's restroom. The restroom has two small stalls with no room for a chair, so sitting on the toilet it is. But, of course, these are commercial toilets and they do not have toilet lids. My coworker who recently went through this same thing gifted me an old shelf (basically a slab of wood) that I now use to put on top of the toilet seat, so that I have a little bit of comfort.
So, picture the scene: Twice a day, every day, for the past seven months, I go to the women's restroom, prepare my pumping pieces, put my shelf on top of the toilet seat, take a seat, and begin pumping. For the next 20 minutes, I stare at the back of a toilet stall door. I did finally figure out how to hold the pumps while looking at my phone, so it did become a bit less boring. Oh, and the real kicker: The lights in the bathroom are on a motion sensor, so after exactly nine minutes, 13 seconds (I know this because of the timer on my pump) the lights go off. Unless someone comes into the bathroom to trigger the motion detector, I am left in the dark for the next 10 minutes. I have learned to laugh at the situation; it is, after all, a bit comical.
My son turns nine months this week, and while my goal was to breastfeed him for six months, here I am, still going strong. — Nicole, executive assistant
Turns out, while breast milk is terrific for babies, it is terrible for laptops.
Adam, we lost power and I'm stuck in the pitch-black bathroom, pumping.
Day 1: I set up my pumping station in the bathroom stall and sat on the toilet (with no lid), waiting for people to wonder why there was a donkey in the bathroom ("hee-haw...hee-haw"). Five minutes went by, and I remember thinking to myself, how am I ever going to do this for the next several months? Seconds later, I found myself sitting in a pitch-black bathroom. I frantically searched for my cell phone and called my husband. "Adam, we lost power and I'm stuck in the pitch-black bathroom, pumping." I'm not really sure why I called him — probably more for sympathy than anything.
Five more minutes went by, and someone walked into the bathroom. The lights turned on; they were on a timer. So, if someone didn't walk in the bathroom within five minutes of me being there, I would have to sit in the dark. And yes, I tried flailing my arms at the sensor while pumping, but that didn't work. Let's just say I spend a lot of days (a lot of Fridays, when most people aren't in the office), sitting in the pitch-black bathroom, pumping away. —Anonymous.
A colleague told everyone she was going to clean out the fridge, but she wasn't going to touch my 'special drawer.'
The best decision I made was to get a Freemie pump. Instead of having to wear a special bra and basically disrobe from the waist up to pump, I could insert the collection cups into my bra; it basically just gave me an enlarged bosom. Being able to keep my shirt on at my desk was so important, psychologically. There is just something weird and uncomfortable about being partially disrobed in the office; that was a discomfort I did not need on top of the objectively uncomfortable task of pumping, filling bottles, washing parts, storing milk, etc.
My colleagues knew not to bother me while my door was closed, but I was still able to talk on the phone, so that was good. The only awkward thing was to be washing pump parts in the kitchen and have someone come in, but I got over that. I was discreet and kept all my pumped milk and supplies in lunch bag totes in one of the unused crisper drawers in our shared fridge. Once, a colleague in our staff meeting told everyone she was going to clean out the fridge, but that I shouldn't worry because she wasn't going to touch my "special drawer," which embarrassed me quite a bit. But, that was the only ripple, ever, in my experience. —Anonymous